In order to create a condition whereby the true “cause” of poverty can be determined, it is useful to flesh out the discussion with a few facts. One important fact is that “Recent studies show that the proportion of low-wage workers in Canada has not fallen over the past twenty-five years, and indeed that real wages have fallen for the bottom half of the workforce” (Jackson, 6). We are talking, here about a full 50% of the workforce which is currently being under-paid. Of those, “about two-thirds of women, and half of men, remain low paid” (Jackson, 6).
In light of these startling statistics, the idea that poverty is endemic and that government is owerless to influence the widespread cultural conditions and issues of “character” which are claimed to be the impetus for widespread poverty appear specious. This single fact used as a rebuttal to the idea of poverty as an endemic condition, may also be used to refute the idea that government is, or should be, powerless to influence the scope of economic conditions in Canada.
In point of fact, the opposite is true: “Currently, the minimum wage debate is particularly applicable to the seventy percent of the workforce in Ontario and other provinces which lack union protection” (CSJ, 2). If 70% of the work-force in Ontario is dependent upon government public policies which ensure a minimum wages which still places most of them at poverty-level, then it does not require a brilliant mind to conclude that the governmental policies have been proven to be effective in ensuring, at least, the minimum wage.
The truth of the matter is that, like the argument that poverty is cultural, rather than economic, the argument that government is powerless to influence poverty is specious. it may be the case that government is incapable of eradicating poverty through public policy alone, but it is almost certainly true that government can, and does, influence the economic conditions of its citizens.
Public policy, in some cases, provides protection to the citizens from the incursions of business-interests; in the case of the minimum-wage laws in Canada, “Non-union employees, mainly those in the restaurant and retail industries and in so-called unskilled jobs, are largely dependent on the minimum wage laws and other provisions to be found in the various employment standards acts across the country” (CSJ, 2).
the foregoing considerations, while incomplete and somewhat simplistically presented, are enough to convince me, personally, that government not only plays a role through public policy at influencing poverty rates — but that government possesses an inherent responsibility to protect the economic well-being of its citizens. In my opinion, the minimum-wage policy presents a tremendous starting-point and opportunity for the Canadian government to exert a positive influence in eradicating poverty nd near-poverty conditions among the working-classes.
The basic idea of any minimum-age policy is to ensure at the very last a subsistence-level of income for the so-called “working poor. ” However, by implementing a public-policy in Canada which called for an across-the-board rasing of the minimum-wage the intervention of government would be proactive rather than merely reactive. In other words, providing a subsistence-level income for families in the working-class does very little, if anything, to address the issue of poverty as a whole.
by providing the absolute minimum to working families, the public policy reveals, on its face, that the law-makers must be sympathetic to the idea that poverty is, in fact, an endemic state which cannot be remedied by governmental policy. By my estimation, this latter conclusion is, of course, incorrect. Therefore, the policy I would implement would involve an immediate and comprehensive raising of the minimum-wage in Canada.
This public-policy would accomplish two things right a way: first, the refutation of government as a “reactive” rather than proactive agency and 2) the refutation of the idea that poverty is at least as much “culturally” based as it is economically based. Although some progressive ideas involve the concept of “wage supplements,” this strategy, to my mind, would involve leaving a vast number of working-people without governmental protection and economic relief due to the fact that families which fall above the poverty line would not be eligible for wage supplements.
This results in a negative impact for individuals: “Women with low wages and precarious jobs who are protected from poverty by the earnings of a spouse can be trapped in dependent family circumstances, and excluded from opportunities to develop their own capacities. Young working adults may escape poverty by living at home, but at the price of their autonomy” (Jackson, 8). In my opinion, wage-supplements are an insufficient leverage against the state of poverty as it exists among the working-classes in Canada today.
One very strong advantage to raising the minimum-wage across-the-board is that it would immediately catapult those working-poor who would have proven to be eligible for the wage-supplement” program out of poverty, at least on technical, economic grounds. This would allow for an immediate observance to determine just how much cultural influences play a role in the perpetuation of poverty in Canada.
my own belief is that poverty is the result of exploitation by the business and ownership classes which exist in order to capitalize on any given materialistic opportunity at the expense of any given party, social class, or even governmental sanctity and efficacy. The move toward a stronger and more efficient minimum-wage would accomplish many things at once, both pragmatically economic and cultural/political and the impact of the policy would be fairly immediate and fairly easy to measure.
Despite the very clear economic advantages that I feel this public-policy would immediately reap, the underlying factors having to do with the nature of government policy in general, and specifically, the role of government as a protector of individuals would be implicit in the public policy of raising the Canadian minimum-wage. This latter consideration is, while seemingly only a “sidebar” to the more immediate issue of economic disparity and working-class incomes, actually the most important aspect of the public policy in question.
The change in orientation, reflected by the government, in the public policy of raising the Canadian minimum-wage represents a radical shift in the perception of the government and public “contract” which presently seems to view the government as a custodian of free-enterprise and capitalism. Prevailing wisdom seems to suggest that “the market should set wages” however, in practice “very unequal societies have generally not considered
income redistribution and poverty alleviation to be very important” (Jackson, 8). What a change in public policy in Canada regarding the minimum-wage would represent would be precisely, a change from regarding “poverty alleviation” to be “not very important” to sending a very clear and public message that poverty was to be considered, by the government, as highly-important, and also highly actionable; that is, the problem of poverty represents a problem which government is capable of solving — at least partially.
Whatever elements are also deemed necessary for poverty-recovery for the working-classes in Canada, whether they be based in educational or economic models — will still require the influence and action of public policies and the Canadian government to be enacted. In my analysis, the problem of poverty in Canada is both epidemic and of serious national consequence. Therefore, public policies which address the problem of poverty through pragmatic application of ideas which are meant to benefit people and families rather than profits and corporations, should be seen as top-priority — on the same level as foreign-policy and national defense.